Enjoy! They are well worth your time.
Many thanks to Doug Harink, both for his lectures which I live-blogged over the weekend, and for the great time of fellowship we got to have together. Doug has kindly sent me a follow-up note on the lectures that speaks to some key points about the matter of the “revolutionary subordination.”
Let me express my heartfelt and enthusiastic gratitude to Halden for generously live-blogging on my lectures on 2 and 1 Peter. I have read the blogs, and I must say that Halden’s parsing of my lectures is really spot-on—indeed, I think Halden has often stated the matter more clearly and succinctly than I did in the lectures. So maybe the live blog is better than the real thing! In any case, great job, Halden.
There is just one point I want to make about the discussion of “revolutionary subordination,” that I perhaps did not emphasize sufficiently in the lectures. Peter makes clear that the members of the messianic communities to which he is writing are free: “as free… yet as God’s servants” (2:16). This freedom is bestowed by the gospel that Peter has described in detail in chapters 1 and 2 up to this point. Such freedom comes through participation in the apocalyptic power of the gospel, and that means freedom with authority. To be a free person as God’s servant (“being aware of God”, 2:19) is to live in the messianic power and authority of the gospel, which power and authority, in conformity to the crucified Messiah, is exercised most precisely at the moment of submission. So also the gospels show that Jesus’ authority is most clearly displayed at the moment when he stands before the powers that be who will crucify him. He is neither resentful, nor a victim. (Cf. also John 13:3-5: “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table…and began to wash the disciples’ feet.”). Likewise Peter’s instruction to “submit” or “be subordinate” is a call to those who share in the authority and power of the messianic age, which share is revealed most perfectly in the grace that the messianic person shows to everyone else, regardless of their place in the social order. Such grace is the opposite of resentment or victimhood.
Harink claims that the call, in all its dimensions, to “be subordinate” is the messianic mission to which they are called. The messianic mission of the church is to love as Christ loved. That means to be subordinate. To become a servant. To give one’s life away in love for the other, even for the wicked and evil. The call to subordination is not a call to remain in the place that the powers place us in. Rather it is the very shape of our participation in the war of the Lamb.
Of course this message is deformed whenever it is viewed as anything less than the collective calling of all those who would follow Jesus. Whenever subordination is something that you need to do, rather than something to which we are all called together as companions in the Gospel it has become something utterly different. The call to subordination, “to every human creature” (1 Pet 2:13 — not “institution”) is nothing less than a call to each and every one of us to embody Christ’s radical love which gives oneself away, even to the point of death. This is the messianic mission. This is the truly “revolutionary subordination.”
For Harink, 1 Peter’s (and Paul’s) call to subordination is not a call to acquiescence in the face of injustice. Rather it is the radical commitment to the belief that Christ’s own movement of self-giving love in the face of oppressive power is the only true way to be liberated from the oppression of the powers. Subordination means nothing less than participation in Christ’s own mode of being, his embodiment of the Trinitarian love in the world of death and slavery.
Of course this can only make sense or sound credible if one truly believes that Christ’s action is indeed “the original revolution.” If that is not true, then indeed the only real mode of power is violence. But if the gospel is true, the call to “subordination” is the call for us to enter into God’s own life itself. It is our participation in the messianic war of liberating love that cannot be held or constrained by the powers of death.
Harink makes a vital point about the call to subordination in 1 Peter. The call to subordination does not, in any sense, describe God’s design for a normative social order. Rather it describes the mode of action that the messianic revolution inaugurated by Jesus ought to take in the midst of an unjust society. The unjust society itself is not endorsed in any way. Rather the act of loving “subordination” — self-giving love, service, grace — is the very act of revolution. Only this way is true transformation possible.
If there is a social order that 1 Peter does view is God’s normative desire, it is one of utter and complete mutuality, a distinctly reciprocal “subordination” in which all put the other before themselves.
When 1 Peter tells people to “be subordinate” it is vital to recognize them as already free in Christ. The call to subordination addresses them exactly as free, liberated persons. It is not a call to “fit” into existing systems. Rather it means to serve, love, give oneself for the sake of the other. Thus it is an expression of worship and the showing forth of God’s radical grace — even toward an unjust master. Thus it creates a fundamental rupture in the existing systems of power. One that Harink claims is far more radical than any sort of violent revolutionary action.
According to Harink the church is apocalyptic in three ways. It is born from the apocalypse of Jesus the Messiah. This singular event grounds and constitutes the life of the church, which otherwise would be “no people.”
Likewise, the church is born into the apocalypse of Jesus. The church is freed from the powers of the fallen creation into the coming Messianic Age. The church’s life and being is one of being given over to the radical presence of the new creation that Christ, in the Spirit has achieved in the cross and resurrection.
Finally, the church is born for the apocalypse of Jesus. The church exists for the sake of Jesus’s transformative unveiling in the world. We are God’s witnesses who live as the church in radical joy, the form of joy that is animated by our being captivated with the gravity of God’s act of liberation. We are born for the apocalypse in that, finding ourselves born from it and into it, we can do no other than work for it, proclaiming it in word and deed, in a Messianic lifestyle animated by doxology and servanthood.
Doug Harink calls the church “a people ‘apocalypsed’ through Jesus the Messiah.” What this means is that God’s revelation (which is salvation) takes the form of invading a world enslaved to other powers. The church is “apocalypsed” in that through the action of the whole Trinity (1 Pet 1:2) it is set free from the slavery that sin and death has wrought in the world. To be “apocalpysed” is to find themselves created and libertated by the act of God in Jesus.
That, according to Harink is what it means to call the church “apocalypsed.” It indicates the rooting of the church in the divine Trinitarian act of Jesus’s life, transfiguration, death, resurrection, ascension, and parousia. The people of God is born from the apocalypse of Jesus the Messiah, the resurrection, the new creation.
Harink emphasizes the point that the church’s holiness is decidedly not rooted in its own desire or effort to be “different” from the nations. Rather the church is holy only through the distinct action of the Holy Spirit. The church does not express its holiness by its moral effort, but rather by the Spirit’s own action to conform it to Christ. The “difference” between the church and the world then arise, not from the church’s desire to distinct or different, but simply from the Spirit’s work of conforming people to Christ. And this, of course always take the form of self-forsaking, agapeic mission.
For Harink, the church is what is — an elect, exilic community in diaspora – because of the radical action of the whole Trinity. Thus he translates 2 Pet 1:2:
To the elect exiles of the Diaspora . . . according to [kata] the foreknowledge of God the Father, in [en] the sanctification of the Spirit, because of [eis] the obedience and blood-sprinkling of Jesus Christ.
The church has its being then, precisely and only because of the Trinitarian act of foreknowing, sanctifying, and justifying which the Father, Son, and Spirit undertake together.
While exile speaks to the church’s homelessness among the nations, diaspora indicates the church’s sending into the nations, its call to take roots therein. Exile and mission are two sides of the same kind. The exilic people are set apart, sanctified, called to bear witness to God’s holiness, and precisely as such are sent in mission throughout the world. This is not a two-step process. Holiness and mission are one complex reality, not two things.
Clearly exile, in 1 Peter involves suffering. The church to whom he wrote was clearly suffering for the sake of their refusal to worship other Gods. Peter’s encouragement to them takes the form of encouraging them to persist in enduring under these conditions. To be an exilic people is to practice vulnerability to the nations’ modes of power and in so doing to believe in a radically different form of power, the power of God.
Peter’s reference to the church as “exiles” doesn’t mean at least two things, according to Harink. It doesn’t mean that they are literally exiles from their homes. Most of the people who received this letter were living where they always lived. Likewise the term does not mean that Christians are “exiles” in this world in the sense that they really belong in heaven rather than on earth.
Rather, being “exiles” points to the people of God’s being set apart, separated by God among the nations for a specific calling. Thus, exile is rooted in election. God establishes God’s people among the nations as witness to God’s holiness, thus constituting a particular sort of non-national peoplehood.
Election expresses the priority of God, in love, to create a people. It is the purpose of God, in mission, to bless “the peoples”, the world as a whole. Thus election is not simply to some sort of status, but rather to life-giving service of the world. Moreover, election founds “the biblical politics of peace.” Because God has called and chosen his people for the sake of the world they are able to dwell, nonviolently among the nations.
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